Centenary of the Representation of the People Act
This year is a special year in Women’s history. The 6 February 2018 was the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the change in the law that gave some women in the United Kingdom (UK) the right to vote for the first time.
The Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women over 30 who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency. It also gave the vote to more men — their voting age was lowered to 21 and the property qualification was abolished. Women would get the same voting rights as men, ten years later in 1928 with the passage of the The Equal Franchise Act.
British women’s right to vote came after a bitter struggle between activists and authorities. The suffragette movement ran a radical and militant campaign that included property damage, hunger striking and the death of Emily Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby. Authorities responded with surveillance, imprisonment and force-feeding. The film Suffragette is worth watching if you want to start understanding the suffragette cause.
If you are interested in finding out more here are some resources:
- Bad Girls : A History of Rebels and Renegades by Caitlin Davies
- Votes for Women, British Library
- Suffrage 100, The National Archives, UK
- Women and the Vote, UK Parliament
Women’s history at the National Library of Australia
In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to give most women the right to vote and the right to stand for election to a national parliament. Indigenous women and men would not be provided with national voting rights until 1962.
Having secured the right to vote in Australia for most women, Australian female activists used their success to support women in the UK and the United States to get the right to vote. If you want to know more about this a really interesting essay to read is Birth of a Nation? by Clare Wright.
Bessie Rischbieth was one of these women. In London, in 1913, during the height of the suffragette movement, she found their cause deeply inspiring. This would drive her own campaigns for women’s rights in Australia. Bessie also built up a large collection of suffragette items that were bequeathed to the National Library of Australia (NLA). Deeds Not Words is an NLA exhibition based on Bessie’s collection. It opened on the 6 February and ends on the 19 August 2018. I am really looking forward to seeing this.
Muriel Matters was an Australian woman who joined the suffragette cause in a big way. Her commitment included in 1908 chaining herself to an iron grille in the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, which resulted in a month’s imprisonment in Holloway Prison; and in 1909 flying over London in an airship inscribed ‘Votes for Women’ and scattering handbills over the city.
Here are some resources about Muriel Matters if you want to know more:
- Muriel Matters (TV movie)
- Miss Muriel Matters : The fearless suffragist who fought for equality by Robert Wainwright
- Muriel Matters Society Inc
If you are interested in the suffragette movement I hope this information helps you do some further exploring. I think there are some really fascinating stories to discover here.